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21 pages 42 minutes read

Robert Creeley

A Wicker Basket

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1991

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Robert Creeley first published “A Wicker Basket” in his 1959 collection A Form of Women. Creeley was a highly prolific poet, publishing over 60 books during his lifetime, with A Form of Women holding distinction as one of his first—released only seven years after his first book, Le Fou (1952). As a member of the experimental Black Mountain poets, Creeley worked to push the limits of American poetry. “A Wicker Basket” exemplifies the counter-culture mores of late 1950s America, communicating a mode of moving through the world as well as celebrating the slang, drug use, and open sexuality typical of the Bohemians of the time. Additionally, the poem’s blend of rigid rhyme scheme and casual diction exemplify the line Creeley walked between traditional and avant-garde verse features.

Poet Biography

Robert Creeley was born in Arlington, Massachusetts in 1926 to medical professional parents. In his first few years of life, Creeley lost both his left eye and his father. Creeley was raised by his nurse mother, Helen, and began writing and publishing in high school. Creeley matriculated at Harvard University in 1943, but he left school to serve as an ambulance driver for the American Field Services in Burma and India. While he did return to Harvard after his time abroad, Creeley failed to graduate due to his disillusionment with the state of literature in the University.

Instead, Creeley sought out poets and movements that embodied the radical shifts in literature at the time, beginning a correspondence with William Carlos Williams, befriending Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, and connecting with poets of the San Francisco Renaissance like Kenneth Rexroth. Eventually, Creeley’s passion for cutting-edge poetry put him in touch with Charles Olson and the Black Mountain School, with whom he would form a lifelong relationship. Along with Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Ed Dorn, and Olson, Creeley formed the bedrock of the Black Mountain School poets, and his work with Charles Olson led to the publication of Olson’s manifesto on Projective Verse, one of the most important poetry movements of mid-century American literature.

Throughout his life, Robert Creeley earned an MA, taught university courses at the Black Mountain School, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and Brown University, and published more than 60 books. Creeley married three times, had several children, and served multiple terms as the New York State Poet Laureate. At the time of his death in 2005, Creeley was celebrated as one of the most influential American poets of the second half of the 20th century.

Poem Text

Creeley, Robert. “A Wicker Basket.” 1958. Poetry Foundation.

Summary

Robert Creeley’s “A Wicker Basket” opens on a scene in a restaurant. There are not specified characters in the first stanza except for the “you” who sits at a “table” (Line 2) having finished their meal. The indeterminate “you” receives a bill from “the headwaiter” (Line 2) while in a carefree mood, listening to the “ring” of “lively laughter (Line 4).

The second stanza maintains the ambiguity of the characters in the scene even as it describes the character in question: “hands like a walrus” (Line 5), “face like a barndoor’s” (Line 6), “a head without any apparent size” (Line 7), etc. The scene describes the character “picking up change” (Line 5) after paying the meal’s bill, emphasizing the physical awkwardness of the process. This awkwardness is implied to result from drunkenness, or at least the mild intoxication of a satisfying night out.

In the third stanza, Creeley relents and defines the unspecified “you”: “So that’s you, man, / or me” (Lines 9-10). Here, the reader is blended with the poem’s speaker. The poem describes a scene which the poet experienced, but it invites the reader into the narrative driver’s seat. The stanza also emphasizes the speaker’s casual, ad-hoc way of moving in the world: he “make[s] it as [he] can” (Line 10).

After picking up his change, the poem’s central character leaves “Out the door” of the restaurant onto a “street like a night” (Line 13). At first, he finds the street empty, but then “well, there she is, / old friend Liz” (Lines 15-16). The speaker hitches a ride with his friend Liz, who “opens the door of her cadillac [sic]” (Line 17) for the poet to “step in back” (Line 18). As they drive home through the night, the speaker admits that Liz “turns [him] on” (Line 20). Despite his arousal, the pair simply drive through the night, which unfolds into an ecstatic scene of “very huge stars, man, in the sky” (Line 21). Intoxicated by the beauty of the night as well as his dinner and implied drinking, the speaker feels as if someone “hands [him] a slice of apple pie, / with […] ice cream on top,” which he eats (Lines 22-23).

In the poem’s final stanzas, Creeley emphasizes the extent to which the speaker savors the night by highlighting how “Slowly” (Line 25) he eats the metaphorical apple pie à la mode. While he savors his apple pie of a night, the speaker admits that “certainly / they are laughing at me” (Lines 25-26), with the ambiguous “they” standing in for other people in general. The speaker recognizes that he is surrounded by a “racket / of these cats not making it” (Lines 26-27), or the palpable impression of people falling short of their aspirations. However, despite the poem describing any particularly successful events, the speaker is confident that he “make[s] it // in [his] wicker basket” (Lines 27-28). The poem ends on the speaker’s affirmation of his own way of living and moving through the world, defining success in his individual way.

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By Robert Creeley